CHAPTER 3

Angelia paced the small camp they’d made as she lis­tened to Fury insulting Oscar while he and Dare tor­tured Fury for information. Honestly, she didn’t have the stomach for it. She never had.

Maybe Dare was right. Maybe she shouldn’t be on a tes­sera after all.

Then again, she was a warrior of unparalleled skill. In battle, she didn’t hesitate to kill or to wound. It was just the idea of beating someone who couldn’t fight back that sick­ened her.

He’s an animal.

No doubt he’d kill her in a heartbeat. She knew that with every part of herself and yet. . .

She cringed as Fury howled in pain.

An instant later, Oscar came outside toward her and the fire they’d made. Without a word, he walked past her and manifested an iron pole.

Frowning, she watched as he placed it in the fire. “What are you doing?”

“I thought a little branding might loosen his tongue.”

A wave of nausea went through her.

Dare came outside the tent with the same look of disgust on his face. “I say you should ram it up his ass until he talks.”

Oscar laughed.

Horrified, she didn’t move until they started back with the poker in hand. “No!” she said sternly.

Oscar angled it at her. “Get out of the way.”

“No,” she repeated. “This is wrong. You’re acting like one of them.”

Dare’s expression was stern and cruel. “We’re protecting our people.”

But this wasn’t protection. This was all-out cruelty. Un­able to bear it, she tried another tactic. “Let me question him.”

Dare frowned. “Why? Like you said, he won’t say any­thing.”

She gestured toward the tent as she tried to keep her an­ger under control. “You’ve been beating on him for hours, and it’s gotten us nowhere. Let me try another approach. What will it hurt?”

Oscar put the poker back into the fire. “I need to eat any­way. You have until I finish, and then I’m going to try my way again.”

Repulsed by them both, Angelia turned around and headed into the tent. The sight of Fury on the floor stopped her dead in her tracks. Still in human form, he was naked with his hands tied at an awkward angle behind his back. Another rope held his legs tied together. He was covered with bruises and cuts to the point that she could barely recognize him.

The fact that he was this wounded and in human form had to be excruciating for him. Anytime they were wounded, they reverted to their natural form. For her it was human. For Fury . . .

He was a wolf.

Trying to keep that in mind, she knelt by his side.

He growled threateningly until he looked up and met her gaze. The pain and torment in those dark turquoise eyes made her wince. And as she dropped her gaze, she saw the scar on his chest. The wound where she’d stabbed him.

Guilt tore through her over what she should never have done.

“Why don’t you just finish the job,” he said, his tone hos­tile and deadly.

“We don’t want to hurt you.”

He laughed bitterly. “My wounds and the glee they had in their eyes when they gave them to me tells me a different story.”

She brushed the hair back from his forehead to see a vi­cious cut that ran along his brow. Blood poured from his nose and lips. “I’m sorry.”

“We’re all sorry for something. Why don’t you be an ani­mal for once and just kill me?” He glared at her. “You might as well. I’m not going to tell you shit.”

“We need to know what happened to the lion.”

“Go to hell.”

“Fury—”

“Don’t you fucking dare use my name. I’m nothing but an animal to all of you. Believe me, all of you made it more than clear to me four hundred years ago when you beat me close to death and then dumped me out to die.”

“Fury—”

He barked at her like a wolf. “Would you stop?” He continued making wolf noises. Sighing, Angelia shook her head. “No wonder they beat you.”

Baring his teeth in true canine fashion, he growled, then woofed. There was nothing human in the sound or his de­meanor.

Angelia stepped back.

The moment she was away from him. Fury slumped on the ground and stopped making any sounds at all. He lay completely still.

Was he dead?

No, his chest was still moving. She could also hear his faint breathing. As she watched him, her thoughts turned to the past. To the young man she’d once been friends with. Even though he was younger than her by four years, there had been something about him that had touched her.

Where Dare had always been arrogant and bossy, Fury had held a vulnerability that had made her protective of him. More than that, he’d never treated her as inferior. He’d seen her as a partner and confidant.

“I’ll be your family, Lia.” Those words haunted her. It had been Fury’s vow to her once he’d learned that her family had been killed by the Katagaria—by his own father’s pack. “I won’t ever let the wolves hurt you. I swear it.”

Yet she’d stood by this morning while they’d tortured him relentlessly.

It’s nothing compared to what you did the last time you saw him.

It was true. She hadn’t stood by him then either, and he’d been beaten a lot worse than this.

“Fury,” she tried again. “Tell me what we need to know, and I promise you this will stop.”

He lifted his head up to pin her with a furious glare. “I don’t betray my friends.”

“Don’t you dare say that to me. I was protecting my peo­ple when I attacked you.”

He let out a disbelieving snort. “From mel They were my people, too.”

She shook her head in denial. “You don’t have people. You’re an animal.”

He twisted his lips into a vicious snarl. “Baby, you untie me, and I’ll show you just how much of an animal the man in me really is. Trust me. He’s a lot crueler than the wolf is.”

“Told you,” Oscar said as he joined them in the tent. He angled the red-hot poker toward the flap. “You should leave. The stench of burning flesh is going to be hard on your nose.”

She saw the panic in Fury’s eyes as he tried to scoot away from them.

Oscar grabbed him by the hair and rolled him over. Fury kicked at him, but there wasn’t much he could do given how tied up he was. Still he fought with a courage that was admi­rable.

“Get out,” Dare said as he entered the tent.

As she started for the flap, Fury let out a howl so fierce and pain-filled that it shattered her soul. Turning, she saw that Oscar had dropped the poker across his left hip where it burned in a foul stench.

Right or wrong, she couldn’t let them do this to him any­more.

She shoved Dare out of her way, then kicked Oscar back from Fury. Before they could recover themselves, she knelt by Fury’s side and placed her hand on his shoulder. Using her powers, she took them out of the tent and moved them farther into the marsh where they’d been camped. Since she didn’t know the area all that well, it was the safest place she could take him.

When he met her gaze, there was no gratitude there. Only rage and a hatred so sharp it was piercing. “What are you going to do now? Leave me here for the gators to eat?”

“I should.” Instead, she manifested a knife to cut through the ropes that held his hands.

Fury was stunned by her actions. “Why are you helping me?”

“I don’t know. Apparently I’m having a moment of ex­treme stupidity.”

He wiped at the blood on his face as she cut the ropes on his feet. “I wish your stupidity had kicked in sooner.”

She paused at the sight of the raw blister on his hip where the jackal had laid the poker. It had to be killing him. “I’m so sorry.”

Fury snatched at the collar on his throat and jerked it free.

Angelia gasped at the action. No one should be able to remove their collar. No one.

“How did you do that?”

He curled his lip at her. “I can do a lot of things when I’m not being shocked.”

She started to leave, but before she could, he snapped the collar around her throat. Shrieking, she tried to use her pow­ers to either attack him or remove it.

It was useless.

“I saved you!”

“Fuck you,” he snarled. “I wouldn’t have been there had the two of you not jumped me last night. You’re lucky I don’t return the favor you did for me.”

Raw panic tore through her as she realized he could do anything to her and she’d be powerless to stop him. “What are you going to do?”

There was no mercy in his expression. No reprieve. “I ought to rip your throat out. But lucky for you, I’m just a dumb animal and killing for revenge isn’t in my nature.” He tightened his grip on her arm. “Killing to protect myself and those in my pack is another story. You’d do well to remem­ber that.”

As she opened her mouth to respond, Fury flashed them out of the marsh and into his brother Vane’s large Victorian house.

Vane’s mate was in the living room, standing by the couch where their son was napping. Tall and curvaceous with short, dark auburn hair, Bride was one of the few people Fury actually trusted. She let out an almost wolf-sounding yelp before she spun about and gave them her back. “Good grief, Fury, warn me if you’re going to jump in here naked.”

“Sorry, Bride,” he said, trying to keep his focus. But it was getting hard given his wounds. “What happened to you?”

He looked over his shoulder to find Vane standing in the doorway. He wanted to answer, but the drain on his powers combined with the wounds was more than he could take. His ears were buzzing. The next thing he knew, he was a wolf again and exhaustion was overtaking him.

“Don’t let her escape and don’t take that collar off,” he projected to Vane before he let the darkness take him under again.

Angelia jumped away from Fury in his wolf form. Real­izing he was unconscious, she started for the door only to find a man there who bore a scary resemblance to Dare. This guy, however, was a lot more intimidating and even more handsome. “I need to leave.”

He looked past her to the woman by the couch. “Bride, take the baby and get upstairs.” Though his tone was com­manding, it was also gentle and protective.

She heard the woman leave without questioning him.

As soon as she was gone, he narrowed those eerie hazel eyes on her that were more wolf than human. “What are you doing here and what happened to my brother?”

She tilted her head at his question. His scent. . . it was unmistakable. “You’re Arcadian. A Sentinel like me.” But unlike her, he chose to hide the marks on his face that desig­nated him as one of their rare and sacred breed.

He curled his lips. “I’m nothing like you. My allegiance is to the Katagaria and it’s to my brother. He told me to keep you here and so I shall.”

Anger ripped through her. She had no intention of stay­ing here. “I have to get back to my patria.”

He shook his head, his face set by determination. “You’re part of my mother’s patria which makes you my mortal en­emy. You’re not leaving here until Fury allows it.” He stepped past her to where Fury lay on the floor.

She was aghast at his actions. “You’re kidnapping me?”

Effortlessly, he picked Fury up from the floor. No small feat given the size of the wolf. “My mother kidnapped my mate and took her back to medieval England where the male members of your patria then attempted to rape her. Be grate­ful I don’t return that favor to you.”

Those words were so eerily similar to Fury’s that it sent a chill over her. “I just want to go home.”

“You’re safe here. No one’s going to hurt you . . . unless you try to leave.” He turned and carried Fury up the same stairs the woman had taken just a few minutes before.

Angelia watched him until he was out of sight. Then she ran for the front door. She’d only made it three steps before four wolves appeared in front of her. Baring their teeth and snapping, they blocked her way.

Katagaria.

She could tell from the smell of them. That scent of wolf mingled with human and magick. It was daylight which meant it was hard for them to appear human. Not impossi­ble, but difficult, especially if they were young or inexperi­enced.

She tried to press forward, but the animals prevented it. “Do what Vane told you.”

She turned and froze in shock. In human form, this werewolf looked similar enough to Dare to be his twin. “Who are you?”

“Fang Kattalakis, and you better pray to whatever god you worship that nothing happens to Fury. My brother dies and I will have your throat.” He looked at the wolves around her. “Keep her guarded.” Then he returned to a wolfs form and ran up the stairs.

Angelia backed slowly into the living room. Catching the sight of another door to the outside, she started for it only to find more wolves in front of her.

Fear sliced through her as she remembered being a help­less child as the wolves ravaged her mother. Over and over she heard the screams and relived the nightmare of them tearing her parents into shreds. She tried to blast the wolves before her, but the collar rendered all her powers useless.

She was at their mercy.

“Get back,” she snarled, throwing a lamp at one of them. The others snarled and woofed, circling her. She couldn’t breathe, as panic set in. They were going to kill her!

Vane wanted blood as he saw the deep wounds on Fury’s body.

“What happened?”

He turned to find Fang standing in the doorway. “It looks like the Arcadians grabbed him and had some fun with him.”

Fang’s nostrils flared. “I saw one of their bitches down­stairs. Want me to kill her?”

No.

Vane frowned as he heard Fury’s voice in his head. Fury opened his eyes to look at him.

Where is she?

“Downstairs. I have the pack guarding her.” Fury turned human instantly. “You can’t do that.”

“Why?”

“Her parents were killed by our pack. Ripped apart in front of her when she was only three years old. She’ll be ter­rified.”

Before Vane could respond, Fury vanished.

Angelia kept swinging at the wolves with her broken lamp as they closed in on her. Terrified, she wanted to scream, but the sound was lodged in her throat. All she could really see was blood, and feel the same horror she’d had the night her parents’ screams had echoed in her head. She couldn’t breathe or think.

The next thing she knew, someone was grabbing her from behind.

She turned, trying to hit her new attacker, then froze as she saw Fury there in human form.

His touch gentle, he took the lamp from her hand and set it on the floor. His expression stoic, his eyes were every bit as blank. “I won’t let them hurt you,” he said, his tone sooth­ing. “I haven’t forgotten my promise.”

A sob came out from deep inside her as he pulled her against him.

Fury cursed at the way she trembled in his arms. He’d never seen anyone more shaken and it pissed him off. “Back off,” he barked at the others. “You’re acting like fucking humans.” Angry at their cruelty, he led her toward the stairs.

“I didn’t need your help,” she snarled at him.

But he noticed that she didn’t pull away. “Believe me, I’m well acquainted with your willingness to stab and kill in cold blood.”

Angelia stumbled at those cold words that were tinged with a well-deserved hostility. It was true. He’d been un­armed when they attacked him and she’d left him to his family and their brutality.

Shame and horror filled her. “Why did you save me just now?”

“I’m a dog, remember? We’re loyal even when it’s stu­pid.”

She shook her head in contradiction. “You’re a wolf.”

“Same difference to most people.” He stopped before a door and knocked.

A gentle voice told them to enter.

Fury pushed it open and nudged her inside. “It’s me, Bride. I’m still naked so I’m hanging out here. This is Ange­lia. She’s not real fond of wolves so I thought she might want to stay with you . . . if that’s okay with you?”

Bride rose from her rocking chair as she cuddled a sleep­ing toddler in her arms. “Are you all right. Fury?”

Angelia saw the fatigue on his face and could only imag­ine how much he must be hurting. Still, he’d come for her. . .

It was amazing.

“Yeah,” he said in a strained tone, “but I really need to lie down and rest for awhile.” “Go sleep, sweetie.”

Fury paused and met Angelia’s gaze with a feral hostility so potent, it chilled her all the way to her soul. “You hurt her, you even give her a bad look that hurts her feelings and so help me, I will slaughter you like yesterday’s meal and no power, yours or otherwise, will save you. Do you understand me?”

She nodded.

“I’m not kidding,” he warned again. “I know you’re not.”

He inclined his head to her before he shut the door.

Angelia turned to find Bride closing the distance on her. Without a word and still holding the toddler, Bride stepped past her and opened the door. Fury was back in wolf form, lying in the hallway where he must have collapsed as soon as he closed the door.

Her expression sympathetic, Bride knelt on the floor and sank one hand in his white fur. “Vane?”

He manifested in the hallway beside her. “What the hell’s he doing here? I was looking for him downstairs.”

“He wanted me to watch Angelia.”

Vane looked at Angelia and gave her a nasty glare. “Why?”

“He said she was scared and wanted me to stay with her. What’s going on?”

Vane’s face softened as he looked at his mate. The love he felt for her was more than obvious and it touched Ange­lia’s heart. No man had ever looked at her with that kind of tenderness.

He brushed a strand of hair back from her face before he dropped his hand down to the dark hair of the sleeping tod­dler. “I’m not sure myself, baby. Fury always talks more to you than he does me.” He returned his gaze to Angelia and it turned lethal and cold. “I warn you now. Anything hap­pens to my mate or my son, we will hunt you down and rip you into so many pieces they’ll never find all of you.”

Angelia stiffened. “I’m not an animal. I don’t prey on people’s families to get back at them.”

Vane scoffed. “Oh, girl, trust me. Animals don’t revenge-kill or -attack. That’s purely human. So in this case, you better act like an animal and guard her with your life. ‘Cause that’s what I’m going to take if she so much as gets a paper cut in your presence.”

Angelia returned his lethal stare with one of her own. If he thought to attack her, he was going to learn that she wasn’t a weakling. She was a trained warrior and she wouldn’t go down without a brutal fight. “You know, I’m really getting tired of being threatened by everyone.”

“No threats. Just a stated hard-core fact.”

Angelia glared at him, wanting to go for his throat. If only she wasn’t wearing her collar.

“All right, people,” Bride said. “Enough. You,” she said to Vane, “get Fury in bed and take care of him.” She stood up and walked to Angelia. “You, follow me and I promise I won’t threaten you unless you do something to deserve it.”

Vane laughed low in his throat. “And keep in mind that even though she’s human, she took out my mother and caged her. Don’t let her humanity fool you. She can be as vicious as they come.”

Bride made an air kiss at him while she cradled her son’s head with one hand. “Only when I’m protecting you and Baby Boo, sweetie. Now get Fuzzhead in bed. We’ll be fine.”

Angelia stepped back to allow Bride to lead the way back into the nursery. The walls were a pale baby blue decorated with teddy bears and stars. She put the toddler in his matching white-and-blue crib before she lifted the side into place.

Feeling awkward, Angelia folded her arms across her chest. “How old’s your son?”

“Two years. I know I should take him out of the crib, but he’s a kinetic sleeper and I’m not ready for him to acciden­tally fall out of bed yet. Silly, huh?”

She bit back a smile at Bride’s concern. “Protecting your family is never silly.”

“No, it isn’t.” Bride sighed as she brushed a hand through the baby’s dark hair. Turning, she faced Angelia. “So you want to tell me what’s going on?”

Angelia debated on the sanity of that. Telling her that she’d helped kidnap Fury and then stood back while two of her tessera ruthlessly tortured him didn’t seem like an award-winning act of intelligence.

More like suicide given the nature of these “people.”

“I’m not sure how to answer that.”

Bride’s gaze narrowed. “Then you must be one of the ones who hurt him.”

“No,” she said indignantly. “I didn’t torture him. I wouldn’t do that to anyone.”

Bride cocked her head suspiciously. “But you let it hap­pen.”

She was smarter than Angelia wanted. “I did stop them.”

“After how long? Fury was in pretty bad shape and I know how much damage he can take and still stand and fight. To pass out like he did. . . someone beat him for a while.”

Angelia looked away, ashamed. It actually hurt her on a deeper level than she would have thought possible that she hadn’t intervened sooner. What kind of person stood by while someone was brutalized? Especially someone she’d once called friend.

Yet twice now in her life, she’d allowed Fury to almost be killed and done nothing to protect him.

She wasn’t any better than the animals she hated, and that part of herself she despised even more.

“I’m not proud of it, all right. I should have done some­thing sooner and I know it. But I did keep them from doing anything more to him.”

“You’re rationalizing your cruelty.”

Angelia clenched her teeth. “I’m not rationalizing any­thing. Honestly, I just want to go home. I don’t like this time period and I don’t like being here with my enemies.”

Bride gave her no reprieve. “And I don’t like what was done to Fury, but until I know more about it, we’re not ene­mies. The hostility at this point is only coming from you. I told Fury I’d keep you company and that’s what I’m doing. No enmity here.”

Angelia cut a vicious glare toward the woman and her patronizing tone. “You have no idea what this feels like.”

“Oh wait. . .” Bride said with a sarcastic laugh. “I was minding my own business when Bryani sent in a demon to kidnap me here in my time period and take me to her village in medieval England—this back when I didn’t even know such things were possible. Once there, everyone I came into contact with threatened me when I’d done absolutely noth­ing to any of them, ever. And that included Dare Kattalakis. Then the males of their patria tried to rape me for no other reason than I was mated to Vane. . . Oh, wait, what am I saying? We hadn’t gone through the mating ritual yet. They were willing to attack me for nothing more than bearing his mark. So, I think I do have a little clue about what you’re feeling here. And in our defense, you’re not being manhan­dled.”

Angelia put more distance between them. What Bride described had been four years ago. And though she hadn’t participated in it, she knew from the others how much dam­age they’d intended to do to the woman before her, and that sickened her, too. “I wasn’t there when they did that to you. I was out on patrol. I only heard about it afterward.”

“Well, bully for you. It was still extremely traumatic for me. And unlike your people, I can assure you that not a sin­gle wolf in this house will attack you unless you provoke it by something you do against them.”

Angelia scoffed at her arrogance and naivete. “You’re hu­man. How can you entrust your life to animals? Don’t you understand how savage they are?”

Bride shrugged. “My father’s a veterinarian. I was raised around all kinds of animals, wild and tame, feathered, furred, scaled, and other. And honestly, I find them much more predictable than any human. They don’t backstab and they don’t lie or betray. In all my life, I’ve never had an ani­mal hurt my feelings or make me cry because of something they did.”

“Count yourself lucky,” Angelia sneered. “I watched my entire family as they were eaten alive by the very pack of animals you have downstairs in your house with your child. The blood of my parents flowed from their bodies through the floorboards and drenched me while I lay in terror of be­ing torn apart by them.”

She looked to the crib where Bride’s son slumbered, peacefully unaware of how much danger he was in because of his mother’s stupidity. “I was only a year older than your child when it happened. My parents gave their lives for mine and I watched as they gave them. So you’ll have to excuse me if I have a hard time thinking good of any animal except those who are dead or caged.”

“It really makes you wonder what the animals did to be provoked, doesn’t it?”

Angelia turned at the sound of the low, deep voice that rumbled like thunder and sent chills over her. Standing head and shoulders above her, this man had a bad attitude so fierce it bled from every pore of his skin.

Dressed all in black, he wore jeans, Harley biker boots, and a short-sleeved t-shirt that showed off a perfect male body. He had a long silver sword earring in his left lobe with a hilt made of a skull and crossbones.

As he scanned her body, his lips were twisted into a sneer made even more ominous by his black goatee. Straight black hair that reached to his shoulders was brushed back from a pair of startlingly blue eyes.

His demeanor tough and lethal, he reminded her of a cold-blooded killer. And when he looked at her she had the feeling he was measuring her for a coffin.

Her heart pounding, she glanced down to his left hand. Each finger, including his thumb, was covered with a long, articulated silver claw and tipped with a point so sharp that it was obviously his weapon of choice. This man liked to get down and dirty with his kills.

To call him psychotic would be a step up for him.

Instinctively, she took three steps back.

Bride laughed a happy sound as she saw him and disre­garded the fact that he obviously wasn’t right in the head and that he was most likely an even bigger threat to them than the wolves downstairs. “Z . . . what on earth are you doing here?”

He cut those cold eyes away from her and focused on Bride. “Astrid wanted me to check on Sasha. Apparently something bad went down at Sanctuary last night and she’s worried about his safety.”

Bride’s eyes widened. “So what do you know?”

He cut a suspicious glance toward Angelia that made her blood run cold. “Some Arcadians have found a way to trap Katagaria in their animal forms and strip out their magick. Sasha said the ones responsible attacked Fury and no one had seen him since. Hence my unannounced presence here without Trace’s playmate. If Sasha’s threatened, Astrid’s up­set. If Astrid’s upset, I’m going to kill whatever’s upsetting her until she’s happy again. So where’s Fury?”

From any other man, that would have come across as a joke, but Angelia didn’t doubt for one instant that Z fully intended to carry out his threat. Especially not the way he was flexing those claws on his hand.

“Wow, Zarek,” Bride said slowly, her eyes shining with amusement. “I think that may be the most words you’ve ever spoken to me during any single visit. Maybe even all of them combined. I’m impressed. As for Fury, I think I should state that he’s not the one who upset Sasha, so please don’t kill him. I’d miss him if he was gone. He was badly wounded and passed out as soon as he got home.”

He let out an expletive so foul, Angelia actually blushed from it.

Zarek narrowed his gaze in her direction. “What about her? Does she know anything?” The tone of it wasn’t a ques­tion. It was an undeniable threat.

Angelia straightened and tensed, ready to fight if need be. “I’m an Aristos. I don’t think you want to tangle with me.”

He scoffed at her bravado. “Like I give a shit. I’m a god, baby, so in the grand scheme of things, if I wanted to rip your head off and use it for a bowling ball, there’s not many who could stop me and most of those who could would be too afraid of me to even try.”

She had a feeling he wasn’t boasting.

“Zarek,” Bride said in a chiding tone. “I don’t think tor­turing her will get you the information you want.”

A slow, sinister smile curved his handsome lips. “Yeah, but it could be fun. I say let’s try it and see.” He stepped forward.

Bride planted herself in front of him. “I know you want to please your wife, and I can seriously appreciate that. But I told Fury that she’d be safe. Please don’t make me a liar, Z.”

He growled deep in his throat and for the first time Ange­lia respected Bride, who didn’t flinch under his cutthroat scrutiny.

“Fine, Bride. But I want to know what’s going on, and if I have to stay here without my wife and child for too long . . . let’s just say it won’t go well for any of you. Where’s Vane?”

“With Fury. First door on your right.”

He flexed his claws before he turned and left. He started to slam the door, then glanced back at the sleeping toddler and changed his mind.

He closed it quietly.

“Thank you,” Angelia said as soon as they were alone. “You’re welcome.”

She rubbed her hands up and down her arms in an effort to dispel the chills his presence had left behind. “Is he al­ways like that?”

Bride covered her baby with a small blue blanket. “Actu­ally, I’m told he’s a lot mellower now than he used to be. When Vane first met him, he really was suicidal and psy­chotic.”

“And you think that’s changed . . . how?”

Bride smiled. “Good point, but believe it or not, when he brings his son over to play with mine, he’s actually very gentle with the two of them.”

That she would pay money to see. She couldn’t imagine someone that insane being paternal or tender.

Pushing Zarek out of her thoughts, Angelia walked to the window to look out on the street below. It was so unlike her home. But she knew that Dare and Oscar would be looking for her. Dare was one of the best trackers in their patria. He shouldn’t have any trouble finding her and bringing help.

May the gods have mercy on this pack when they arrived. . .

“So . . .” Bride said, letting her voice trail off a bit. “Care to tell me what this weapon is that you guys have in­vented?”

Angelia didn’t speak. The weapon was ingenious, and it was one they would die to protect. With it, they had proven that mankind was at the top of the food chain. None of the animals in the Katagaria would have ever been able to de­sign it.

It was the one thing that could protect her people from them forever.

“It really makes you wonder what the animals did to be provoked, doesn’t it?” Z’s words haunted her. Honestly, she’d never really thought about that before. All she’d ever heard was that the attack had been unprovoked and undeserved.

She had no reason to doubt that.

But what if it hadn’t been?

“Why did Bryani attack you?” she asked Bride.

“She claimed she was trying to save me from being mated to her monster of a son. Personally, I think she was just a little whacko.”

That was an undisputed fact. Bryani had been the daugh­ter of their leader. As such, her story was known by every­one. It was a story the mothers in their patria used to frighten misbehaving children. Given what the Katagaria had done to the poor woman, it was amazing she had what little sanity she did. “They kept her in their den and repeatedly raped her. Did you know that?”

Bride’s expression turned sad and sympathetic. It was obvious the tragedy of that event wasn’t lost on her. “Only Vane’s father did that, but yes. Vane has told me everything about his family.”

“And did he ever say why they attacked us that night?”

Bride frowned. “Don’t you know?”

“We have theories. Everything from the wolves must have been hungry and smelled our food to they were rabid Slayers bent on drinking our blood. But no, no one knows why we were attacked.”

Bride looked stunned by her words. Her expression turned from disbelief to disgust. “Oh, they know exactly what they did. They just don’t want anyone else to know. Those lying dogs . . .”

Now it was Angel ia’s turn to be baffled. “What are you talking about?”

When Bride answered, her tone was rife with anger and disdain. “Not one male in your pack has ever confessed to what they did?”

“We were innocent victims.”

“Yeah, and I’m the tooth fairy. Trust me. The attack was provoked.” Bride shook her head. “You know, I will say this, the Katagaria at least admit what they do. They don’t lie to cover it up.”

“Well, if you know so much, then please enlighten me about what happened.”

“Fine. The Katagaria had a group of females who were pregnant and unable to travel.” That was common to both the Arcadian and Katagaria. Once a female was pregnant, she couldn’t shapeshift or use her power to teleport until after the children or pups were born.

Bride folded her arms over her chest. “Since they were in medieval England at the time the females conceived, the males took their females deep into the woods away from any people or their villages to make their den in safety. They’d been there for several weeks with no problems. Then one night, the males went out to hunt for food. They found deer and were chasing them when two of the wolves ended up in snares.

“Vane’s father, Markus, turned human to free the two who were trapped and while he was at it, he was approached by a group of Arcadian males—the ones who’d set those traps. Markus tried to explain that they meant no harm to them, but before he could, the Arcadians executed the two wolves in the traps, then shot arrows at the others. Outnum­bered, the pack returned to their den where they found most of their women and children missing.”

Angelia swallowed as a bad premonition went through her.

“The wolves tracked their scent back to Bryani’s camp, where they found the remains of most of their women. They’d been butchered and their hides strung up to tan. There were a handful of pups still alive, but caged. So the wolves waited until nightfall. . . At dusk, a group of the Katagaria led the Arcadian males out of camp so that the others could go in and free their remaining women and children. Bryani’s father and others attacked them and the brutal fighting you remember happened.”

Angelia shook her head in denial. “You lie! They at­tacked us unprovoked. There was no reason for what they did. None.”

“Sweetie,” Bride said in a gentle tone, “you don’t know the real truth any more than I do. I can only tell you what Vane’s pack has told me about that event. Honestly, I believe them for several reasons. One, they don’t have any females that old. Something happened to kill them off. And now every male over four hundred years old in their pack is in­sanely protective of any female brought in. I’ve been with the wolves for the last four years and not once have I seen them be aggressive to anyone unless they or their pack was threatened. Nor have I ever known one of them to lie. If anything, they’re honest to the point of brutality.”

Angelia still refused to believe it. “My people wouldn’t have attacked women and children.”

“They tried to attack me.”

“In retaliation!”

“For what? Vane hadn’t hurt them and I most certainly hadn’t. Not one male in your entire patria, including your leader, Vane’s own grandfather, would come to my defense. None. But I tell you what. If anyone or anything came into this house and threatened me, there’s not a wolf downstairs who wouldn’t give his life to keep me safe. And that goes for any female in their pack, too.”

The baby woke up and started crying for his mother.

Bride left her to pick him up. “It’s okay, Trace. Mommy’s here.”

He laid his head on her shoulder and rubbed his eyes. “Where’s Daddy?”

“He’s with Uncle Fury and Uncle Z.”

The boy perked up instantly. “Bob play with Trace?”

She smiled indulgently. “No, honey. Bob didn’t come with Uncle Z this time. Sorry.”

He pouted until he saw Angelia. Then he turned bashful and buried his head against Bride’s shoulder.

Bride kissed his cheek. “This is Angelia, Trace. Can you say hi?”

He waved at her without looking up.

In spite of it, Angelia was strangely charmed by the small boy. She’d always loved children and had hoped to one day have a litter of her own. “Hi, Trace.”

He peeped at her over the safety of his mother’s shoulder. Then he whispered in Bride’s ear while his mother rubbed his back affectionately.

In that moment, a repressed memory came flooding back to her. It was something she hadn’t thought about in centu­ries. Fury and several boys had been injured while climbing a tree. The boys who’d skinned their hands and knees had run to their mothers for comfort. Fury had broken his arm. Crying, he’d gone to his mother, too. Only when he reached Bryani, she’d angrily shoved him away.

Angelia’s uncle had started to comfort Fury.

Bryani had stopped him with a sharp growl. “Don’t you dare comfort that boy.”

“He’s hurt.”

“Life is pain and there is no comfort for it. The sooner Fury accepts that, the better off he’ll be. Let him know early on that the only one he can depend on is himself. He broke his arm by being stupid. He must tend to it.”

Her uncle had been aghast. “He’s just a child.”

“No. He’s my vengeance and one day I’m going to un­leash him on his own father.”

Angelia flinched at that memory. How could she have for­gotten it? Then again, Bryani had never been an overly doting parent, so why should it stand out in her memory any more than all the other times Bryani had failed to comfort her sons? It was why Dare was so cold to everyone around him. He’d spent his entire life trying to earn his mother’s acceptance.

And it was the last thing she’d ever give her children.

“Does it feel good to be hugged?”

She could still hear Fury’s baffled tone as he’d asked her that. It’d been her fourteenth birthday and her uncle had hugged her before he allowed her to go outside and play with Fury. “You’ve been hugged, Fury.”

He’d shaken his head. “No, I haven’t. At least not that I remember.”

She’d tried to think of a time when someone had held him, but true to his words, she couldn’t recall a single time. Heartbroken, she’d put her arms around him and given him his very first hug.

Instead of hugging her back, he’d stood there with his arms at his side. Stiff. Unmoving. Not even breathing. It’d been as if he was afraid to move for fear of her hurting or abandoning him.

“Well?” she’d asked after she released him.

“You smell nice.”

She’d smiled. “But did you like the hug?”

He’d walked into her then, rubbing his head against her shoulder in a very wolflike manner until she’d wrapped her arms around him again. Only then did he stop moving. “I like your hugs, Lia.” Then he’d run away and hidden from her for three days.

He’d never allowed her to hug or touch him again.

Even with all the secrets they’d shared. Even when she cried. He’d never touched her. He would merely hand her a cloth to wipe her eyes with and listen until she felt better. But never had he come close to touching her again.

Until today, when he’d gone to protect her from the other wolves.

Why would he have done that?

It made no sense. He was an animal. Disgusting. Brutal. Violent. There was nothing redeeming about them. And yet she couldn’t shake the images of her past. The times when Fury, an animal, had been closer to her than anyone else.

“I’m a Sentinel, Fury!” She’d awakened to find her marks and had snuck out of their cottage at dawn to find Fury by the stream where he’d gone to sleep. It’d been a strange cus­tom that she hadn’t understood at the time. Only later would she learn that he slept there because he was a wolf and he’d been afraid of his family learning that secret.

He’d smiled an honest smile. Unlike the other males of their patria who’d been jealous when they learned she’d been chosen, Fury had been genuinely happy for her. “Have you told your uncle?”

“Not yet. I wanted you to be the first to know.” She’d tilted her head to show him the faint markings that had yet to be fully formed. “Do you think I’ll be pretty once the lines fill in?”

“You’re the most beautiful wolfswan here. How could your marks ever make you anything else?”

She’d gone to hug him, but he’d run off before she could.

Even though she’d told herself he was nothing but an ani­mal, the truth was, she’d loved him. And she’d missed him horribly.

Now he was back.

And nothing had changed. He was still an animal, and she was here to kill or maim him so that he would never be able to hurt another human being again.

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